Generation Z’s message to today’s brands: We’re low-key looking for commitment

by | Jan 23, 2020 | Public Relations

Brand communicators are endlessly striving to better understand the preferences, beliefs and behaviors of Generation Z. They want to identify how this uniquely elusive generation thinks about the world, how that shapes their opinions about brands—and how companies can take this understanding to attract this audience at a critical moment as they amass spending power.

New research from cultural communications agency DeVries Global offers some fresh perspectives on Gen Z’s behavioral patterns and purchase motivators.

“For good or for bad, shifting gears quickly between choices, topics, personas and emotions is a way of life for Gen Z and the only one they know,” said Colby Vogt, global EVP of Business Intelligence at DeVries Global, in a news release. “This native ability has led to their reputation as a generation that can’t commit to anything, who aren’t loyal to too much for the long term, and who are constantly seeking out the new. However, our research showed the opposite is true. They actively seek out the familiar and the consistent and exhibit trust in, of all things, brands—at a level that may surprise people.”

Among the report’s key findings:

The world of Gen Z is constantly shifting

  • 74 percent of Gen Z report shifting what they are thinking about or focusing on to keep up with what’s happening in the world around them and remain relevant as a priority.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) go to bed with no idea of what the next day will hold or what topic will capture their attention. This has resulted in two out of five (40 percent) saying their life is inconsistent and unpredictable.
  • More than half 53 percent say they have more than one profile on some social media platforms. In fact, one out of six say they aren’t consistent in how they portray themselves in social media and 34 percent change who they are on occasion to fit in with different groups. In this race of keeping up, more than one in four (26 percent) say they post on social media about topics they think they are supposed to care about, even if they don’t.
  • The constant unpredictability is stressing them out. With 63 percent saying they are extremely or very nervous about their personal future—significantly higher than any other generation.

This constant change leaves them craving the familiar…and familiar brands

  • While happiness is the top priority for all generations, Gen Z is different from Millennials and Gen X in that they crave control as their second priority—probably not a surprise based on the constant shifting they are required to do in life.
  • It’s possible they are seeking control in the form of the familiar. 69 percent of Gen Z say they find comfort in the familiar—and this seems to translate to familiar brands as well where 85 percent of Gen Z say they like to buy from familiar brands over new or non-mainstream brands. As a matter of fact, consistency and familiarity trump everything else except for value when looking for a brand to buy.

However, it is not enough to be familiar, to win favor with Gen Z, brands also must be clear about what they offer the world, offer it consistently and try not to shift too much. When asked what is most important to them when thinking about what brand to buy, the top three attributes, after “value,” were “they are consistent,” “they are familiar to me” and “they care about making the world a better place.”

“Brands might assume that a younger, social media-driven audience favors trendy, surprising and popular brands, but our findings indicate otherwise,” said Loretta Markevics, Chief Strategy & Creative Officer at DeVries Global. “We know that Gen Z is looking for more from brands in general. They want a reason to belong to their brand’s tribe and demonstrable actions from a brand that reinforce to Gen Zers they made the right choice. This connection at a values level is tablestakes for an audience that craves not just brand connection but familiarity and consistency. Companies that understand this will see tremendous value from this audience.”

Brand loyalty is not dead it’s just different…it’s about commitment

“Gen Z is clearly looking for some of the stability and predictability they are missing in their daily lives to be delivered by brands. Those that deliver, garner initial support from Gen Z, but to sustain that support, Gen Z wants a two-way relationship with brands. Loyalty used to be defined as buying the same brand over and over. It was commerce-driven. Today, it is not one-way and it certainly isn’t just about purchasing. There is an expectation from Gen Z of a deeper value exchange between them and brands. Gen Z wants more than a brand fling they buy into, they want two-way commitment,” said Markevics.

  • Popular belief indicates loyalty is dead with Gen Z—but DeVries Global’s research found the opposite: 76 percent of Generation Z say they are indeed loyal to brands, only just over half (51 percent) saying they have commitment with a brand today, indicating that a committed relationship is harder to achieve than a loyal one.
  • Just like any committed relationship, Gen Zers commitment to brands is grounded in, first, reliability, then design (“looks”), respect, fun and intelligence. One of the assumptions many carry with a younger audience is that they want funny, trendy, surprising and popular brands, but it seems Gen Z is more discerning than that.
  • And commitment comes with some benefits. 60 percent say they will recommend a brand to other people, 42 percent say they will pay a higher price and nearly a quarter won’t even look at a competitive brand.

Are brands ready for commitment?

  • Only three sectors (technology, snack foods and restaurants) are identified as understanding Gen Z by more than 50 percent of respondents, so there is a lot of work to be done if brands want to achieve this new higher level of commitment with Gen Z.

“If you think you’re ready to start a truly committed relationship with Gen Z, at the very least, do these three things now—1) Bolster your YouTube presence. It is their search engine, so if you’re not there, they likely won’t find you; 2) Ensure others are talking about you. Gen Z says the clout of influencers will only increase in the future; and 3) Get your executives walking the talk. Gen Z sees company and brand as virtually the same and they follow business executives at a higher rate than any other generation. So get your executives talking in a language Gen Z will understand and appreciate. Even small changes can increase your chances of Gen Z commitment,” added Vogt.

Generation Z’s message to today’s brands: We’re low-key looking for commitment

The first in DeVries Global’s series of surveys kicked off in July 2019. It included 2,470 consumers (1,193 Gen Z respondents between 15-24 years old) in addition to 1,277 consumers in other generations for comparative purposes. Researchers went back in the field to validate hypotheses developed from the initial survey with two follow-up phases with 510 and 546 Gen Z respondents respectively. Research fielding concluded in fall 2019.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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